Gilbert the favourite for Belgian championships

Gilbert is looking forward to racing the Belgian national championships this weekend, in his 'backyard'

Gilbert is looking forward to racing the Belgian national championships this weekend, in his 'backyard' (Image credit: Bjorn Haake)

Philippe Gilbert will be one of the favourites at the Belgian national championship road race this Sunday in Aywaille. The Silence-Lotto rider will have the advantage of racing on well-known roads, as the event is virtually taking place in his back yard.

Gilbert felt confident, but was also cautious on what he sees as a tricky parcours. "[Racing at home] is going to be an additional motivation for Sunday. But the route is very special. It is difficult, but not overly difficult," explained the Classics specialist to TV show Sportweekend.

The Belgian road race championship will be decided on a 13.8km-long circuit starting and finishing in Aywaille. The riders will complete 17 laps of the course for a total distance of 234.6 kilometres. In the first half the course ascends an altitude of 150 metres in the middle of the parcours. The second half is predominantly downhill, with the last 500 metres leading up to the finish completely flat.

Gilbert, who won stage four of the Ster Elektrotoer in the region as well as the stage race's overall classification, was looking forward to it. "My legs feel good. Still, the stage finish [at Ster Elektrotoer] suited me well with a climb just before the line - at the national championship, the finish is different, as it is flat. There are only three places on the podium, so we don't need ten people together at the finish!"

Silence-Lotto will be aiming to make the race as hard as possible for Gilbert's competitors. The outgoing Belgian champ, Jurgen Roelandts, is also part of the team but it is understood that Gilbert will be the squad's leader against the other Belgian ProTour team, Quick Step, and a number of dark horses.

"Gilbert is in top form, as is the whole of our team," Silence-Lotto team manager Marc Sergeant told La Dernière Heure. "For the Belgian champs, we will also count on Van Avermaet, who is coming back strong. As well as on Roelandts and Jurgen Van Den Broeck. We will be strong, but let's not forget Quick Step with Boonen, Devolder and Van de Walle. We also have to follow the young guns from Top Sport Vlaanderen like Bakelants and Hermans, as well as Bert De Waele."

Patrick Lefevere's outfit will support Tom Boonen, who has reconnoitred the route. Speculation surrounds whether or not the former world champion and three-time Paris-Roubaix winner will at peak form for the championships. Boonen missed a number of races this season during a suspension from his team following revelations of recreational drug use. Boonen explained earlier this week that the ongoing drama concerning his possible exclusion from the Tour de France has disrupted his training program.

The quarrel between his team and Tour organiser ASO - which has dominated Belgian cycling headlines recently - is nevertheless expected to be settled in court on Friday, two days before the road race in Aywaille. (HK)

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